This is more of a eulogy than a review. I went to see LeCarre give a talk at the University of Warsaw in the early 1990s. He had recently stopped feuding with Salman Rushdie over The Satanic Verses, and he had a reputation as a crusty old know-all who couldn’t care less about people. The lecture was brilliant, and afterwards many of the attendees went to a screening of the movie version of The Russia House. I left the movie early (had somewhere to go), and the man himself was standing outside the doors waiting to talk to whoever might come out.
I sheepishly introduced myself and ended up talking for maybe half an hour. During this, I noticed he was holding a notebook with a list of email addresses. Old Mr. Curmudgeon was offering to read the novel drafts of the young writers at the movie. He asked me what I wrote, and he offered to find me an agent. Not once did he talk about himself unless I insisted on it. And he wasn’t in Warsaw to promote a book. He gave the talk because a professor of international relations had reached out to him. I mention all this because the image of the tweed-wearing elitist has to go away. The man made a point of helping writers and students.
As for The Pigeon Tunnel, it’s a charming memoir of times and people in his life. There are thought-provoking descriptions of his (non)relationship with his con-man father and of being a young spy in Bonn. There are also amusing anecdotes about movie people like Alec Guinness and Sidney Pollock. Don’t expect a window into LeCarre’s soul. Instead, enjoy the collection of reminiscences of a life very well lived. R.I.P. Reviewed on Dec. 14, 2020